GROUP HUG! (Photo credit: Rob Carr)
In dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience and a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Cardiac Caps were once again back at work as Washington pushed their winning streak to eight. Less than one month ago it would have been hard to imagine any of this happening. Nevertheless, the Caps are now just a single point out of first-place in the Eastern Conference.
“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
The Blackhawks opened the scoring less than five minutes into the contest. After receiving a feed from Marian Hossa, Nick Leddy put the puck past Holtby. Just under two and a half minutes later, however, Boyd Gordon would knot the game at one. After picking up an errant pass by the ‘Hawks power play, Gordon raced down the wing before firing a slapper past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford for the shortie. Late in the first frame, after John Erskine drew a holding penalty, Washington headed to their recently anemic power play. This time, however, it would be different. New Cap Jason Arnott fired a bullet from the point that found twine, giving Washington their first lead of the game.
Three minutes into the second period, Chicago would tie the game at two when Holtby gave Tomas Kopecky a little too much daylight. Kopecky seized the opportunity, banking the puck off ‘keeper’s back from behind the goal-line. In the waining moments of the stanza, things got physical when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook delivered a hard check behind the net to Jason Chimera. Everyone favorite fire-footed, stone-handed forward took exception to Seabrook, challenging him to a duel. Seabrook appeared to come out with the win in the bout but it was Chimera got the take-down.
“Chimmer, I thought, he was a factor. He did not get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game,” said Chimera’s teammate Brooks Laich. “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there. I think he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. So I think he had a very good night.”
Six and half in to the final frame, the aforementioned Laich put home Matt Hendricks’ (or more accurately Eric Fehr’s) feed from the corner to put the Caps on top. Washington appeared to be in control until Marcus Johansson was called for hooking at 18:10. “I thought it was a pretty chintzy call,” said Boudreau. On the ensuing Blackhawks power play, Jonathan Toews converted on a mad scrum in front of the net, as the puck bounced in off Holtby’s skate.
In overtime, the Capitals missed numerous chances until, finally, Mike Knuble — with a little help from Johansson — came to the rescue. Ballgame over. Caps top ‘Hawks, 4-3.
- Braden Holtby continued his determined play of late, making 27 saves on 30 shots despite, as he said later, not feeling at the top of his game. The first two goals he gave up he’d most likely want to have back. On Leddy’s opening goal, a diving Matt Hendricks and a standing Boyd Gordon screened Holtby on the shot from the point. On Kopecky’s “no-angled” tally from behind the net, Holtby cheated off the right post, thinking it was a centering pass. Plain and simple, a rookie mistake.
- “I did not feel that great out there. Today was kind of a battle the whole game,” Holtby said. “Thankfully the guys played a great game, especially defensively, and did not give up too much. A little bit of a mistake by me in the second, but we were still able to come out on top.”
- Still, Holtby was praised by head coach Bruce Boudreau after the game, saying “they are really not making it easy” for him to chose a playoff starter. “I am going to be ready if called upon, willing to put my heart on the line for this team,” said Holtby of that prospect.
- Holtby cleared the puck on a penalty kill again, prompting NBC’s Pierre McGuire to say, “this guy’s about as good as Marty Brodeur when it comes to handling the puck.” We’re still waiting for that empty net goal, Braden.
- DJ Pauly D of “Jersey Shore” fame was at the game today after accepting Alex Ovechkin’s invite at Shamrockfest Saturday. Mr. D (?) stayed through overtime and even met with the boys in the locker room after the game, despite having a scheduled show in Harrisburg, PA at 5pm. Outfitted in a Caps jersey, a large chain and diamond earrings, Pauly D rocked the red with Slapshot, filmed an interview with Guerin Austin of Caps Red Line and took a photo with Fehr and John Carlson after the game. I would make some sort of joke here but I’m still dumbfounded.
- Thanks to Arnott’s late power play goal, the Caps came into the first intermission with a lead for the first time in 13 games.
- The Capitals third line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr played playoff style hockey. Laich won seven of his eight face-offs, Fehr had five shots while Chimera racked up three hits, two shots and, of course, his fight with Seabrook. Chimera’s fight was notable, if only because it took Seabrook – one of the Blackhawks best defensemen – off the ice. With Brian Campbell struggling with a foot injury and playing only 7:05, the Blackhawks opened the third period with only four rearguards. The group’s hard work was also rewarded by a second period goal from Laich. Fehr did all the heavy-lifting, outmuscling Duncan Keith behind the net for the puck before then dishing out a no-look backhander to Laich for a one-timer. It’s Fehr to say, Caps fans Laich goals by Brooks. Yeah, we’re horrible
- Marcus Johansson not only had the game-winning assist, but he also had a game-high seven shots on goal, two hits and three blocked shots. Can we assume his unintentional appearance at RMNB Party Two spurred his inspired performance today?
- Alex Ovechkin‘s seven game point streak — during which he accumulated four goals along with seven assists — may have ended but Ovi was still a force to be reckoned with. Ovechkin had six shots while registering three hits. He saved his most impressive effort for his last shift of the game, where he went one-on-three in the offensive zone, breaking through the triangle of players to fire a wrist-shot just wide of the net. Given how much criticism Ovechkin received for his poor — at least by his standards — play earlier in the year it’s important to note the renewed energy, creativity and hustle that he has displayed over the past month or so.
- Tomas Kopecky unintentionally boarded Dennis Wideman face-first into the glass in the third period, giving the Caps a two-minute power play. But this bullet is actually dedicated to Kopecky’s good sportsmanship after the hit. He tried to hold Wideman up as he fell down, stopped playing and asked to make sure he was okay. With the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty hit dominating sports headlines over the past week, this was good to see. Wideman returned for his next regular shift and logged a team-high 27:27 of ice time.
- Jeff Schultz had five blocked shots. He also happened to miss the net by about 15 feet on a wide-open shot from the point. Nevertheless, a good performance from Sarge despite that fact he finished minus-one for the day.
- Finally, NBC did a nice feature on John Carlson during the second-intermission. View it here.
“I just like our team so much more than at this point last year,” said Knuble. “I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
Still, Boudreau doesn’t want to worry about being the top dog in the East. “It is a nice feather in your cap,” he said. “In the end, I mean, I don’t care if we are eighth or first. I got to believe the eight can beat the one. It’s happened, I think.”
The Caps in Montreal Tuesday night. We’ll see you right back here.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.